Detroit — On nights like these you, again, can see how the Red Wings are making some progress.
It may not be the huge steps some fans want to see. It’s gradual and doesn’t come with a long, consistent string of victories.
But it’s there, proven Tuesday in a 4-2 victory over Carolina.
With victories over Carolina and defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay in the last three games – the Wings earned five of a possible eight points against the two powerhouses – the Wings showed progress against the elite of the NHL.
“They’re obviously two of the best teams in the league,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That played out last year and it’ll play out this year, so to get five points is a good step for us as a hockey team.
“Tonight was one of our better games of the season. We played fast, hard, and managed the puck pretty well. We weren’t without mistakes, but we created a lot of chances and we played the way real hockey teams have to play. It was a good step.”
Furthermore, the Wings are now 2-3-0 against the Hurricanes this season, competitive against one of the NHL’s best teams.
So, there’s some progress. Playing well enough to compete, and occasionally win, against some of the NHL’s best.
“We felt pretty good about ourselves, the way we played,” said Adam Erne, who had two first period power-play goals to ignite the Wings. “That’s the way we want to play every night, and hopefully we can continue to do that. It led us to beating some of the better teams in the league.”
Erne’s had his two goals, and Robby Fabbri, off a brilliant end-to-end dash from Dylan Larkin, scored for the Wings (9-17-4) while Filip Hronek clinched things with an empty net goal with 25 seconds left (Hronek’s first goal this season, and first goal in 47 games).
Larkin was a game-time decision to play, but looked more than fine, particularly on that play.
Larkin got a pass from Marc Staal, then gained steam as he roared down the ice, before finding Fabbri near the hashmarks. It was Fabbri’s sixth goal, at 12:28 of the second period, giving the Wings a 3-2 lead.
“It was a point in the game where it’s a huge goal,” Blashill said. “It kind of showcased what he (Larkin) is real good at, transporting the puck and he can do a real good job transporting the puck up the ice. It was a big goal at a big moment.”
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 34 saves for the victory.
Nino Niederreiter (power play) and Sebastian Aho scored for Carolina. The Hurricanes (20-7-1) saw their eight-game win streak come to an end.
When the Wings have had close to a full roster, they’ve shown they can be a decent hockey team.
Eliminate an 0-6-2 stretch early in the season when the Wings were ravaged with COVID-19, and the Wings have been 9-11-2 with a mainly healthy roster.
“We think we have a chance to win every game,” Erne said. “We’re playing with confidence and it’s a huge thing for us. It’s good to come way with one-goal games (victories) and we just need to continue to do that.”
Aho tied the game 2-2 at 1:50 of the second period, with his 11th goal. Martin Necas made a nifty stickhandling play just inside the circle, then threaded a pass across the seams to Aho, who one-timed a shot past Bernier from the dot.
Erne got the Wings going with the first two power-play goal game of his career.
After Carolina had taken a 1-0 lead on Niederreiter’s power-play goal, Erne tied it just over a minute later.
Erne got to a rebound near the hashmarks and snapped a shot past Reimer at 3:35, taking some of Carolina’s momentum from the early goal.
Then, later midway in the period, Erne snapped the tie with his fifth goal.
Larkin found Erne alone between the hashmarks, and Erne one-timed a shot past Reimer at 12:11, giving the Wings a 2-1 lead.
“Adam has done a real good job this season of taking the opportunities he’s had and making the most of them,” Blashill said.